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From Bangkok to Dhaka: My Journey to Create Impact at Scale

Entrepreneurship development and empowerment are complementary to each other particularly in the gender context in which women involvement is involved. In Bangladesh where I come from, there is a growing class of women entrepreneurs who are taking the challenge to work in the male-dominated, competitive and complex economic and business environment and thereby contributing to the country’s economic growth.


The challenge isn’t new. As someone who have worked in development for a long time, I have been trying to see new, innovative ways to provide them as many as opportunities as possible. Being a development practitioner, it’s easy to get stuck in the same ways of working despite your efforts to do things differently. While several factors are beyond our control, the workload and hectic schedule are among the major constraints.


In September last year, I had an opportunity to join an Oxfam’s project called Impact@Scale. Through the prototyping training and support from Oxfam senior managers and experts from, I managed to conduct an in-depth analysis of the challenges of women entrepreneurs are facing in gaining access to services. The aim was to design a project/plan to map the asset so that the women’s businesses would flourish quickly.


Before coming up with a few prototyping ideas, we had started the innovation process by identifying challenges through field research (eco system mapping) to find stakeholders who are working for the development of women entrepreneur, horizon scanning to gather knowledge about global innovators who have already identified some solutions for the challenges, and interviewing to get insights about possible solution.


A lot of our findings show there hasn’t been drastic change in this sector. While we have various business service providers including women chambers of commerce, industries, financial and government institutions, local NGOs providing special attention to develop women entrepreneurship, most of the institutions are focused on urbanites and city residents. This results in a large number of rural women entrepreneurs not being aware of the opportunities.


We also met with stakeholders including district and government officers, NGO workers, online service providers who have programs and training for those ladies. Based on in-depth discussions with them, I have finally developed the hypothesis that “If there is a formal platform at district level for rural and semi-urban women entrepreneurs, their business will grow.”


So we approached Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI). Under the Impact@Scale project, we are going to work with BWCCI to enhance the bargaining power of this women group in the market through the joint prototyping work. The prototyping would be on the process of developing a formal platform for the women. To achieve this, we agreed to provide a capacity-building training, mentoring support, networking facility, and business information to 20 women entrepreneur for three days on March 13 – 15.


The women were from Dinajpur, Gaibandha, Rangpur, and Nilphamari districts, 16 of them being entrepreneurs and four business development officers from our local NGO partners.


For most women, this was their first time obtaining this kind of training. They found it very exciting and fun as they were learning to develop the enterprise development skill and business management, the 101s of refinancing scheme, bank loan process, taxation and VAT registration, and how to do business communication and networking, get trade license, etc.


So far, this prototyping has worked beautifully. Our immediate success was that three of our participants have made a trade license with the support of district BWCCI officer and our partner NGO SEED within the first month of training. The women said their encounter with district representatives of BWCCI has opened their eyes and boosted their confidence, making them believe that they, too, could become successful in business like them.


For the next few months, these women will receive support to participate in the district trade fair, open a bank account and discuss with different banks on loan programs while learning to improve their products and find the network and market for it. I can’t wait to see more ideas and enthusiasm from those women as we’re approaching the final stage of the Impact@Scale project.


The project will end in July but the journey surely continues.


Shamema Akther Shamme is Senior Programme Officer (Women’s Economic Leadership) in Bangladesh.

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